Climbing. Kid. Partner. I’m sorry, there is no compromise.
Balancing life with either a kid or a non-climbing partner and climbing can be a never-ending conflict. Be it trying to hang on to a relationship on the brink because of one’s never ending affair with the rock or finding a balance between parenting and climbing. The majority of people have an issue with it, saying, come on now- is climbing really that important?
Well, love, I am sorry, but it is. For many it’s more important than me and you put together and anything else in between. The obsessive desire seems unexplainable and inherently selfish. But what is so bad about wanting to spend your life doing what you love most? If more people were doing what they truly want to be doing, wouldn’t it make the world a calmer place?
Freedom and time. I have met wonderful people in the past few years who refuse to have a kid because they are unwilling to sacrifice these two elements. They weren’t ready to be put aside the road trips, the long climbing days and the time spent living-the-dream for their secret desires to have a child. They saw it as impossible to maintain a solid affair with the rock while having a newborn sleeping in their arms. I admit that I was one of those people. I just wanted to climb. School, family, and especially work all came second. I did not realize at the time that my life was about to drastically change. I was about to be taught a lesson in self-sacrifice and what was truly valuable in life. To this day, I am reminded of that lesson on a regular basis. Climbing, really, is not that important. Life, however, is.
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When I found out I was pregnant, I was balancing climbing, school and work. I wondered if my life of freedom would end along with all my other earthly desires. Was climbing over? Was school done? And my body, what would happen to it? What changes would take over my life? And how selfish of me to think these thoughts at such a miraculous moment. Yet there I was, dealing with what were real concerns for me and, as I learnt later, real concerns for many soon-to-be parents. I was not ready to quit one of the most important things in my life, yet what was happening here was the possible ending of a passion that seemed endless. I have seen climbing literally disappear from some friends’ lives after a family was made. I have also seen many other families succeed at balancing climbing and family life. What is the key factor that keeps some ticking and forces others to retire? Perhaps motivation? If there’s a will, there’s a way.
After my daughter’s birth I realized a few things. First, life doesn’t end, it just changes and change is inevitable. Second, there are far more important things to life than just myself and climbing. Finally, climbing doesn’t have to end. Everyone handles change differently. Personally, I didn’t take the change too gracefully. It took me a long time to overcome the self-inflicted conflict I felt between being a mother and my desire and inability to climb.
As a new parent, maintaining the balance between climbing and parenthood is challenging and what works one day may not work the next. Change is inescapable and learning to accept and adapt is fundamental to having true freedom. For example, not complaining when climbing plans are cancelled because your child has to go to a birthday party. Accepting moments where things don’t go your way is paramount to enjoying what is one of life’s greatest gifts.
What could I say to encourage my friends who want kids, yet who are fearful of the change? Giving life is parallel to receiving life; a child teaches just as much as they need to be taught. To be reminded that you are not the only one is a great lesson of life, which requires humility to fully appreciate. Now what does this have to do with climbing? Everything. Simply put, climbing is affected after having a kid. Certainly, climbing can be affected by being in a relationship with a non-climber and I know of married couples that have divorced because one person’s passion for climbing stressed the relationship. But how does one find a balance between the two, especially when there are so many other things to balance? It takes more thinking and organization but if you are motivated anything is possible.
Often I am asked how I afford to road trip and parent. The same way I did before I had a child: working and sacrifice. Working is harder to juggle as a sole parent so our material wealth is directly affected. However, it is easy for me to choose to let go of certain material desires so I can be with my child and still climb. Camping, thrift store shopping, simple yet healthy cooking; it all helps. The style of parenting I practice also saves money. Who needs a stroller, an extra bed, or diapers when you can carry a child in a piece of cloth, build love and security at night by co-sleeping and practice natural infant hygiene (yes, no diapers). As for going climbing, I bring her along. Children want to be with their parents and have an instinctive need to explore, roam and learn; let nature be their teacher. Just because I don’t conform to the social norms, doesn’t make it bad, it’s just a different path. I have given my child the experience of growing up outside and PlayStation free. The experiences we have together shape who we are, help us to grow and have more value than any material goods. If you choose, it’s simple. Just like climbing.
However, parenting can require more energy than anyone can imagine. Sleepless nights, long days, it’s a never-ending challenge. Children are innocent expressions of life and their energy is a sweet reminder of this fact. The long days climbing are traded for a life that’s much more complicated yet deeply rewarding. I know my days climbing are precious, more focused and intensified. When before I would dawdle in the boulders, I now try that much harder. Cedar is a reminder that life passes quickly and if there is only one chance, it’s right now.
Motivation, time management and my friends help me stay fit and inspired. I rely heavily on this tight family of climbers to help with Cedar while I climb. The phrase, “it takes a village to raise a child,” holds much underestimated truth. The only key here is to ask for help when needed. Many folks don’t know what it’s like to be a parent and people certainly can’t read minds. If parenting can teach anything, its humility. One must simply ask for help.
Recently my daughter again reminded what is important. After becoming frustrated for falling for the umpteenth time at the end of a project Cedar gently walked up to me and said, “Momma, it’s ok. I just want to give you a hug and a kiss.” Moments like these teach me that we are like snails on a whale. The world is vast and attaining our desires in this life is not really the point. True freedom exists in gently accepting and enjoying life and all its challenges. This is far more fulfilling than the top-out of any climb. Life, really, has more to offer than rocks.
Thomosina Pidgean lives in Squamsih and is one of North America’s top female boulderers.